The recent rise of the Far Right alters the political balance in Germany. Because of its racism, it illustrates the inadequacies of "denazification" in the East and historical introspection in the West. The date with the next elections is in 2021.
Although the links between France and Germany are innumerable, the two countries finally do not know each other very well, and the comments of the French press regarding the elections that took place on September 24th, 2017 in Germany, constitute yet another example of this. It is difficult, listening only to the echoes of these elections in France, to understand what this new extreme German Right really is, its type of discourse and the relationship with the history it conveys.
THE FAR RIGHT IN THE GERMAN PARLIAMENT
The AfD party (Alternative für Deutschland/Alternative for Germany) won 12.6% of the votes, an advance of 7.9 points compared to the last elections in 2013. This increase, way beyond the most pessimistic polls, allows this right-wing political formation to be represented in the German Parliament with 94.
This is the first time. Thanks to the 5% rule adopted in 1949 (after learning from the failure of the Weimar Republic) a party cannot have parliamentary representation if it does not get 5% of the votes, or three direct mandates, which no far-right party had achieved up until September 24th, 2017. This entry into the Bundestag has concrete consequences; for example at the financial level.
The AfD will receive 16 million Euros of public money each year, a figure calculated based on the number of its elected representatives.
If we look more closely at the rise of the AfD, the difference between the new Lander (the ex-RDA) and the rest of the RFA sticks out a mile. In the East, 21.5% of the general public (26% of men and 17% of women) voted for this party, while in the west they were "only" 14% of men and 8% of women. In Saxony, the AfD is even the leading party, with 27% of the votes. It surpassed the CDU of Angela Merkel, the party of the Christian-democrats, by a few votes.
The opinion polls show that the AfD has been made out of votes from all the parties without exception, and specifically from the CSU, the quite conservative Bavarian social-party, and Die Linke, the party to the Left of the SPD, which groups the PDS, heir of the Communist Party in power in the GDR and the Social Democrats disappointed by Schröeder's liberal economic policy.
However, the core of the votes come from the abstentionists. The AfD has convinced 1.2 million of the general public who were not in the habit of voting to go to the polls for the first time, specifically in the 35-44 age group, and particularly among the unemployed, workers and employees. The AfD has unleashed a dynamic that allows it to affirm, on the Mittel Deutscher Rundfunk (MDR) television network, that these elections have not been more than a first step on the road that will take them into government in the upcoming 2021 elections.
EASY-GOING RELATIONSHIP WITH NAZISM
In any case, the AfD electoral campaign multiplied the provocations, to the point of justifying that the German voters had turned their back on such a political party.
Alexander Gauland, who led the campaign alongside Alice Weidel, said for example that Germany could "be proud of what the German soldiers had done during the two world wars". Moreover, she told a journalist about the black football player Jérôme Boateng, that "people find him fine as a soccer player but they would not like to have a Boateng as a neighbour". He also proposed that the social democrat secretary for integration Aydab Ózoguz should be "sentg to Anatolia" (a region in Turkey), using the word "entsorgen", which is closer to "deport" than to "return" and which literally means "get rid of".
As for Beatrix von Storch, the vice-president of the AfD, in 2016 strongly proposed in an official statement that the German police working at the borders be authorized to shoot illegal immigrants, including children. In this manner, we could cite many more examples.
The common denominator to all these terrible positioning statements is a completely easy-going relationship with Germany's Nazi past.
Neither is it a coincidence that the biggest advances of the AfD occured in the ex-GDR. It is undoubtedly influenced by the fact that unemployment and precarious employment are greater than in the West. However there are also historical reasons. Since February 26th, 1948 the Soviet military administration officially ended denazification in its area of employment. With the agreement of Moscow, the National-Democratic Party of Germany was created in the future GDR, which existed until 1990. It was part of the parties called "Blockparteien", in the logic of a false concurrence with the SED (Unity Socialist Party) to justify holding elections.
This National-demokratische Partei Deutschlands (NDPD) was founded with the aim of hosting former Nazi party cadres (NSDAP), wehrmacht officers and some prisoners of war who came back to the GDR. It had 52 members of parliament, its own publishing house, Die Nation, and even a newspaper. In the SED, party in power in the GDR, ex-cadres of the NSDAP also appeared, and in this way the Far Right never ceased to exist in the GDR.
Furthermore, to the extent that State was founded on the myth of anti-fascism and communist heroism in the resistance against Hitler, no serious work of reflection on national-socialism was carried out, no critical introspection, such as that which took place in the FRG.
CRITICAL INTROSPECTION DEFICIT
This refusal to face up to the past had notable exceptions, but the founding myth of antifascism was dominant. It explains in itself the fact that artists and intellectuals settled in the GDR after the Second World War, to show the entire world after the Nazi crimes, that a socialist society without exploitation of man by man was possible. A woman such as Christa Wolf adopted from the beginning this vision about the East German society project.
The denazification, quickly abandoned in the zone of Soviet employment and the particular positioning of the GDR on the national-socialist past ("we had nothing to do with that, as communists we were at the very front of the resistance against Hitler") had quite concrete consequences. Jana Hensel, born in 1976, tells for example in her work Zonenkinder that, some years after the fall of the Berlin Wall, she found herself at a dinner with students from West Germany who told how they had grandparents, uncles, grandparents, neighbours..., who had belonged to the national socialist party. And then they realized that nobody, neither in their family, nor in their environment, nor in the families of their school friends, had had the slightest link with Hitler's party.
But the problem is that this deficit of critical introspection now also concerns West Germany. Right after unification and throughout the decade of the 90s, this work back to the past saw a real boom. An exhibition about the Wehrmacht in 1995 showed for the first time that, contrary to what had been thought, the hands of the German army had not been spotless -far from it- and that acts quite similar to those of the SS had been committed by the Army, specifically on the Eastern front.
The 1966 appearance of Daniel Goldhagen's book, professor at Harvard, "Hitler's Willing Executioners. Ordinary Germans and the Holocaust" also sparked many debates in the German public space. In 1990, the declassification of the Stasi archives and other elements also contributed to feed the reflection on the collective responsibility of the Germans in the two successive dictatorships.
POLITICAL STABILITY OR LACK OF IMAGINATION?
However after 2000, all this tended to disappear, and the arrival in power of Angela Merkel in 2005 brought a new element. The Chancellor decided to govern together with the Social Democrats, in the framework of what is called in Germany a "grand coalition", so that the Left-Right debate, which is usually structuring in a democracy, could not be freely expressed.
This grand coalition exists since 2005, except for the period 2009-2013. In this way, a space has been opened up by radical discourses such as that of the AfD that has founded a part of its argument on the need for renewal and the idea that all traditional political parties have the same programme.
It is undeniable that the political life of the FRG was characterized by great stability. Between 1949 and 1966, the Christian Democrats remained in power and then, from 1966 until the arrival of Kohl, the Social Democrats were.
Khohl spent 14 years in the chancellery and Merkel had been the Foreign Minister for twelve years. In no other European country has there been such comparable stability.
In September 2017, in Le Monde, Emmanuel Droit published a column entitled "Germans get bored and they like that". He insisted on the sluggishness of the electoral campaign and the fact that the Germans, who themselves suffered considerably and made everyone else suffer in the 20th century, today manifest the desire to "retire from history". However the problem is, according to them, that they are doing so at the worst moment, at the moment when the Far Right is on the rise all over the west and imagination will be needed to relaunch democracy and the European construction.
Accordingly, an avenue has been left to AfD that has used the traditional rhetoric of the Far Right. Opposition to the "system", without knowing exactly what this word means. Mistrust towards "elites" and intellectuals, the critical discourse towards the media, although using them to their advantage (for weeks, El Bild published for weeks an impressive number of "Fake News" about sexual assaults to young blond women by asylum seekers, retracted in the small print in the nest edition. This is to say, not retracted at all.
MIGRANTS AND MUSLIMS
The AfD's aggressive discourse focuses mainly on Islam, after the 2015 emigration crisis, which accordingly represents a change. Founded in 2013 as a liberal and Eurosceptic party, the AfD from 2015 became a party of the Far Right, similar to the Austrian FPÖ model.
When a journalist asked Alice Weidel, leader of the AfD campaign, his opinion on "marriage for all", at the time of the debate that preceded its adoption by the Bundestag, in June 2017, he declared herself to be against it, despite living with a woman (a Swiss from Sri Lanka), with whom he raises two adopted children. He justified this contradiction by stating that the "marriage for all" debate made no sense "when millions of Muslims for whom homosexuality is a crime arrive and threaten our freedom". A recurring element in the rhetoric of the AfD appears here: the deliberate presentation of Islam as an archaic and homophobic culture.
The AfD's argument is based on the postulate of an incompatibility between the "safeguard of the German national identity" and the arrival of emigrants.
The party electoral posters are accordingly particularly revealing: a belly of pregnant white women and the slogan "New Germans? We make them ourselves. "
The saddest and most worrying poster is undoubtedly the photo of three Bavarian women in traditional clothing, with the subtitle: "Colour diversity? We've already got it". It is difficult to show less empathy towards migrants, putting the colour of clothes and skin colours on an equal footing.
This grim observation should not make us forget that 87% of German voters voted against the AfD. Between the two rounds of the French presidency election, the fear that Marine Le Pen could be elected was present in Germany, even more than in France.
There are reasons to expect that this breach in the consensus around the fundamental values of the German Constitution, the fight against racism and the defence of the right of asylum, will continue to be an epiphenomenon, and that the AfD will not end up inserting itself into political landscape, like the FPÖ in Austria.